The planets Venus and Jupiter have been drawing closer together in the evening sky over the span of the winter and the spring. Back in February, 2015, these planets were on opposite sides of the sky, since Jupiter was rising in the east while Venus was in the western sky after sunset. If you were watching all this time, you would have seen Jupiter creeping across the evening sky over the last three months, moving toward its July, 2015 rendezvous with Venus. By now in the month of May, these two bright objects are now sharing the same patch of sky, and are approaching a little bit more each evening!
After the sunset during May, you can see the position of these planets among the stars of the zodiac. During May, Venus will appear to be moving through the stars of the constellation Gemini. Jupiter is currently in the constellation Cancer, “the dark constellation,” formed of very faint stars. However, even from the brightly-lit cities, it should be easy to see that Jupiter is in between Gemini and the constellation Leo.
Look for these brilliant planets near the twin stars Castor and Pollux in Gemini, and Regulus in Leo.
If you try soon, you might be able to see the bright star Procyon, one of the conspicuous stars of winter, which will soon vanish into the sunset.
Though they appear to be aligning in the evening sky, Jupiter and Venus are actually many millions of miles apart from each other, as seen from above the solar system. As the Earth moves in its orbit, the sun appears to be heading east into the constellations, which creates the illusion that Jupiter is drawing toward the sunset. Because of this, Jupiter will soon slip behind the sun, as seen from the Earth.
Venus, however, has recently moved out from behind the sun, and heading toward the general direction of Jupiter, and is thus moving into alignment.
You can’t miss Venus and Jupiter, because they are the brightest “stars” currently visible in the evening sky. They are often confused with airplanes, or even UFOs by people who do not closely observe the sky. But in case you’re still not sure, go out in the evenings this week, after the waxing crescent moon reenters the evening sky.
The moon will pass near Venus on the evening of Thursday, May 21, 2015. The moon will continue to march across the sky night after night, and will pass Jupiter two nights later, on Saturday, May 23. This is sure to be a beautiful sight, so do your best to see this with your family!
If you keep your eye on Venus throughout May, 2015, you can watch it draw into alignment with the stars Castor and Pollux. On the evening of June 1, Venus will form a straight line with these stars, and will be an amazing sight to behold.
A summer alignment of Jupiter and Venus will not happen again in our lifetime, so don’t miss it!
Bottom line: Venus and Jupiter are the two brightest planets in Earth’s sky, and every so often they meet on the sky’s dome. Their next spectacular conjunction – fortunately, in the evening sky – is about to happen. By late June and early July, they’ll be amazing. Start watching them now! Charts and info here.
Homeschool dad, Reagan conservative, mile-swimmer, freelance patent agent, astronomy author. Jay Ryan operates a website that provides a homeschool astronomy curriculum presenting a visual understanding of the visible sky. Look for Classical Astronomy on Facebook and follow @JayRyanAstro on Twitter. Or visit ClassicalAstronomy.com. The curriculum is called Signs & Seasons.